Caity Thwaites had managed to speak for more than 10 minutes about her career before shedding her first tears - then laughed through them to insist that not all of her many retirement interviews on a busy media day had been as emotional as this one.
The previous night, though, the departing veteran had cried when breaking the news to her teammates and Vixens staff. Of course she had.
And do we really need to ask whether there will be waterworks once the heart-on-sleeve shooter and fan favourite has played the last of her 230-plus games in the coming weeks?
“Huh!’’ Thwaites admits with typical good humour. “It’s a given.’’
Which is fitting, for the 33-year-old who has not been one to mask her emotions, having bravely acknowledged her long-term struggles with depression and anxiety and since worked to reduce the societal stigma around mental health.
Indeed, above her many playing achievements, extraordinary longevity, and determination to be a great teammate through 55 Tests (and 1106 goals at 92%) for the Diamonds, and at five clubs in Australia and New Zealand, has been Thwaites’s determination to use her platform to benefit the wider netball community.
A popular figure this week hailed on social media for her personal qualities as much as her international and domestic successes, Thwaites is proudest of the friendships she has made over her 18 elite seasons, and the many setbacks she has overcome en route.
“I feel like resilience is such a buzzword at the moment, but I’ve hit so many roadblocks across my career and been able to find a way to keep going,’’ says the goaler, who ranks fifth on the all-time national league games list after starting as a 15-year-old Bendigo schoolgirl for the Melbourne Kestrels.
“In dealing with those it’s created a lot of strength, and I’ve learnt so much because I’ve been a part of so many different environments.
“I’ve been a part of teams with incredible people that have all got different skill sets, and have all added something to me and my journey. So I’m really proud that I’ve been able to keep at it, but also that I’ve been able to learn and take those things along the way with me.’’
While her exit is not entirely unexpected, excellent form in the new and demanding role of goal attack had recently prompted calls for the reborn Thwaites to reverse last year’s Diamonds’ retirement. But the Commonwealth Games and World Cup gold medallist and 2009 Vixens’ Premiership player will go the other way and finish up at club level, as well.
Having suspected throughout 2020 that this would be her swansong, Thwaites first wanted to gauge how the unique coronavirus-dictated circumstances would play out. The additional stresses prompted her to delay making a final call on the future, because of what she explains as a reluctance “to deal with the ramifications of what that would do emotionally to me, so it’s probably been a little bit of a coping mechanism to actually put off making that decision until I had to."
There have been other complications, too. Thwaites says she is loving playing so much that she can’t stop smiling when out on court, her body has held up surprisingly well despite so much time being spent at what she jokingly calls “bloody goal attack’’, and she believes she is still adding value to her Vixens team.
The sum of those three parts: “It’s probably made me question whether (retiring) is the right thing to do.
“But ultimately my thought process has been that my priorities have shifted a little bit and the benefits of continuing are no longer outweighing the sacrifices that I’m having to make and my family are having to make. For me it’s time to put them first and kind of focus on that next phase and what that looks like.’’
Which is? “A little bit of time off, kickin’ my feet up, would be nice to begin with!’’ Time with family and her ever-supportive fiance, Adam. A wedding to organise. That psychology degree to finish - yes, finally. Some more keynote speaking gigs. Branching out in the athlete wellbeing space. Contributing, however she can.
And what a far more positive finish than it would have two years ago when, after being controversially jettisoned by the Magpies, Thwaites suspected her career was over. Instead, Mwai Kumwenda’s late-season ACL tear cleared the way for the foundation Vixen (who would then join NZ’s Central Pulse, and the NSW Swifts before the Magpies) to return to her original home in 2019.
“It’s been amazing to have had these last two seasons with the Vixens and to have really been embraced back into the fold even though I was playing for the enemy for a couple of seasons!’’ she says.
“I feel like Netball Victoria have been a huge part of my netball pathway and of what I have become. I’m a Victorian netballer and the way that I play is that Victorian style, so it’s been amazing to be able to finish up playing with the Vixens.’’
The Minor Premiers face a rematch with the Sunshine Coast Lightning in Saturday’s major semi-final and yet, however promising the first 14 rounds, two more wins are needed to send off Thwaites and games record-holder, Tegan Philip, on the best possible note.
“It would be incredible to be able to finish it off on a high because it has been a season absolutely like no other,’’ says Thwaites. “I feel like we’ve dealt with a lot of adversity along the way, and how amazing it would be to hold up the trophy at the end, hopefully, with all of the mates that you’ve been through it all with.’’
Ideally, of course, the scorer of almost 7000 goals would be at home, taking her final bow at Melbourne Arena, but the fact it will be in Brisbane influenced Thwaites’ decision to flag her retirement intentions in advance, in order to thank so many for their support.
Talk of which prompts the tears to return, but just a few, and one suspects a mere trickle compared with Sunday night, when Thwaites stood up in front of the Vixens’ group after dinner and announced that her 18th national league season would be her last.
“Let’s be honest - if I didn’t get emotional it probably wouldn’t be like me, and people would start wondering what the hell was going’ on!’’ laughs Thwaites.
“So in true Caity style, with tears and all, that’s the way I’m goin’ out!’’
Written by Linda Pearce